Veteran resolve: Military goes from war to career for Smyrna’s Richardson

Korean War veteran William Richardson, 91, of Smyrna, stands next to the Korean War monument at the Kent County Veterans Memorial Park in Dover. “Veterans Day means to look back over my life and we’ve come a mighty, mighty long ways,” said Mr. Richardson. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — It was an autumn day in November of 1950 when William Richardson’s life changed forever.

That was when he discovered that Selective Service had made him one of more than 1.5 million men who were drafted into the Korean War, which lasted from June 1950 until the armistice agreement in 1953.

Many might think that Mr. Richardson, of Smyrna, would look back angrily at being drafted by the military, moved out of his home and sent away to war far across the Pacific Ocean, but that is far from the case.

It turned out to be a time that had a positive impact on the now retired Sgt. 1st Class Richardson’s life, giving him a direction, a purpose, and as it turned out — a future.

That’s why when Veterans Day comes around each November — as it does today — Mr. Richardson is overwhelmed with a feeling of accomplishment and always makes sure to attend, and sometimes speak, at veterans’ ceremonies around Delaware to rekindle that military camaraderie he felt while serving in the U.S. Army from 1950 until 1979.

“Veterans Day means to look back over my life and we’ve come a mighty, mighty long ways,” said Mr. Richardson, a 91-year-old who remains sound in both body and mind. “It’s the buddy-buddy system. The military leaves no one left behind. Of course, we didn’t leave anybody behind in Korea, but Korea was nothing like the fighting that was over there in Vietnam … those guys had to fight that PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder) when they came back.

“But as far as my life is concerned, it’s been a wonderful life and you learn a heck of a lot from all five branches of the service.”

He added, “I let the young people know that you go in and you have a job to do, and then you come out and you’ve got a story to tell if you go to the school and churches on Veterans Day, and in this day and time when you wear this (veterans’) cap, they look up to the military — more so than ever.”

Korean War veteran William Richardson salutes during Veterans Day ceremonies hosted by Chapter 850 Vietnam Veterans of America at Kent County Veterans Memorial Park in Dover in 2016. (Delaware State News file photo/Marc Clery)

Mr. Richardson said today is also another time to say thanks to the 1.5 million other U.S. military veterans who traded their tomorrows for our todays and died while fighting for the United States.

There are currently around 20.4 million U.S. veterans, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, representing less than 10 percent of the total U.S. adult population, with 75,081 of the veterans residing in Delaware.

Dave Skocik, a retired Navy chief and president of the Delaware Veterans Coalition, said he hopes everyone takes a moment out of their time today to thank a veteran such as Mr. Richardson and the many others for their service.

“Veterans Day means a great deal to those we celebrate because it not only acknowledges and honors their service, but that of their families as well,” Mr. Skocik said. “That there are so many folks attending these celebrations is a very positive thing because it underscores the support and love of so many.

“The sacrifices that those who wear the colors of our nation make is what allows us to sleep soundly in our beds with confidence that our future is secure.”

A blast to his past

Mr. Richardson said that prior to receiving his draft letter, he and a good friend actually went to the local draft board on Governors Avenue in Dover to enlist.

“We went upstairs to Local Board No. 1 and Paulene Richardson was the local board adviser back then in 1950,” he said. “(My friend) went in and I said, ‘I change my mind, Lucky (friend’s name). I’ll see you outside.’ So, I went outside and was sitting on the curb and he was up there for about an hour.

“This was probably in June (1950), and two months later I got my greeting (draft notice).”

Mr. Richardson remembered going to Cambridge, Maryland, and then heading to Fort Meade, Maryland, which served as the reception center for recruits. He said there were troops on the road there night and day going to the chow hall, going back and processing, going to the chow hall, going back and processing.

“From there, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, is where we spent our little vacation,” he said.

That’s where he really took off as an Army cook after serving as a cook at then-Delaware State College while going through high school.

However, there was one Friday night at Fort Bragg that it was his turn for KP duty, but he said he decided that might be a good night to go to nearby Fayetteville State University.

“I was always a gambler and I said, ‘Guys, it looks good to me, let’s go to Fayetteville State,’” Mr. Richardson said. “At Fayetteville State they always had a thing about the troops every Friday night.

“Well, Saturday morning I was off, and we failed an inspection. And my sergeant came up to me and said ‘You little SOB, we failed inspection. You get over there and scrub them wood floors.’”

That led to his group putting full packs on and marching for an hour-and-a-half at night for about two weeks straight.

Just at the end of that humbling experience, he found out he would be transported to California for advanced infantry training to go serve in the Korean War.

“My training was with the 522nd Infantry Battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina,” said Mr. Richardson. “We were in Company B. I was at Camp Stoneman for maybe 10 days and then put on board the U.S.S. Butner en route to Korea. So, that was my first tour stateside duty. I left my duty and the next 11 months and 19 days I spent in Korea.”

He remembered arriving in Korea in late winter.

“We landed at Inchon and got aboard the U.S.S. Black, walking in maybe knee-deep water up to Inchon,” he said. “You talk about a sore sight to see. There must have been 300 to 400 troops in that first wave.”

Not long after that, the young soldiers were lined up and told where their next stop would be.

“I’m over there by myself and wondering ‘What the heck is going on over here?,’” he said. “Then the truck started backing up. A guy came up and said, ‘Are you Richardson?’ I said, ‘Um hum.’

William Richardson went to the local draft board in Dover to enlist in the U.S. Army in June of 1950. He changed his mind then but received his draft notice two months later. (Submitted photo)

“He said, ‘You’re going to have some light duty, you’re a cook, right?’ So, we got off in Seoul and the 57th Ordinance Recovery Company had a detachment in Seoul. We got in a bombed-out schoolhouse on the second floor. That’s where the kitchen was.”

Oddly enough, the mess sergeant he replaced near Seoul turned out to be the same one that made him scrub floors back in Fort Bragg.

“I didn’t like him worth a damn,” Mr. Richardson said, “but, I was his replacement and the rest is history.”

Turning service into a career

When Mr. Richardson returned to the United States during the Korean War, he had it figured out that there was a career to be had in the military.

So, he spent four years doing active duty training at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, four or five years at Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania, went to Fort Pickett Virginia, home of the S&S — Supply and Service Company — and also spent three years in Fort Drum, New York.

His most memorable stint came in Kentucky.

“My last two weeks of active-duty training was Fort Knox, Kentucky,” Mr. Richardson said. “I always wanted to go to Fort Knox because the unit I was assigned to (in Korea) came from Fort Knox — an all-black ordinance unit.

“They really changed my life. I wanted to go to the front (in Korea) because my company was an ordinance recovery company and had M-32 tanks.”

Instead, he was eventually sent to the kitchen instead of the front line.

Mr. Richardson said if there’s one piece of advice he can offer up to today’s youth, it is not to discount a potential career in the military.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. “If you don’t have a college education, or you’re not college material, join the military. They give you pretty good pay, nothing like the pay that I got when I was in there, which was just a couple of cents an hour.

“I do know one thing, though, I learned a heck of a lot and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

The Korean War hat that he wears proudly is testament to that, as are the many veteran friends he will meet with today, exchanging salutes and many memories.

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